The Wood Brothers
Two brothers decide to form a band, adapting the blues, folk and other roots‐music sounds they loved as kids into their own evocative sound and twining their voices in the sort of high‐lonesome harmony blend for which sibling singers are often renowned.
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Chris Wood had a scrap of a song — seemed like a chorus — scribbled in a notebook. He played it for his older brother, Oliver, who’d had a verse lying around he didn’t know what to do with. The two pieces, composed months apart, one in urban Atlanta and the other deep in the Catskills, dovetailed musically and lyrically: the verse about a man regretting chasing unattainable women, the high-lonesome, harmony-driven refrain of “When I die, I wanna be sent back to try, try again.”
“Neon Tombstone” wasn’t the first song that Chris, a founding member of jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood, and Oliver, formerly Tinsley Ellis’s guitarist, had written — since 2006, they’d released three studio albums of Americana as The Wood Brothers. But it was the first one they’d written like this. “This is how a song is supposed to come together,” Oliver remembers thinking. “There was some chance, some randomness, to it.”
The experience marked a deeper level of collaboration for The Wood Brothers, a newfound fraternal synchronicity that’s captured on their latest album, ‘The Muse.’ Within the first few bars of opener “Wastin’ My Mind,” which could pass for a lost cut from “The Last Waltz,” it’s clear the brothers are operating on a different plane than when we last heard them, on 2011’s ‘Smoke Ring Halo.’ The components are similar: the dialed-in vocal harmonies, Oliver’s gritty acoustic guitar, Chris’s virtuosic upright bass, the warrior poet lyrics. But here there’s a glue — a yellowy carpenter’s glue, one imagines — holding it all together. The cohesion comes from the brothers having spent the last two years on the road with new full-time member Jano Rix, a drummer and ace-in-the-hole multi-instrumentalist, whereas they relied on session musician-friends to fill out previous albums. Jano’s additional harmonies give credence to the old trope that while two family members often harmonize preternaturally, it takes a third, non-related singer for the sound to really shine. And then there’s Jano’s work on his literally patented percussion instrument, the “shuitar,” a shitty acoustic guitar rigged up with tuna cans and other noisemakers, which, in his hands, becomes a veritable drum kit.